Underwater Birthday Party

Third graders created these mixed media works based on a narrative I read aloud about an underwater birthday party.

For the background, students experimented with watercolors, creating a gradation from light to dark much like the filtering of light as it travels to the deepest depths of the ocean.

Using colored pencils and sharpies, students imagined a party filled with all kinds of interesting sea creatures. Some of these creatures were imagined, while others were inspired by nautical themed tattoos. Once all of the guests had been drawn, students cut them out and pasted them to their watercolor backgrounds.


African Masks by 3rd


Following our study of Pablo Picasso, third graders looked at how the artist’s work was influenced by African Art. Exaggerated and often geometric facial features can be observed in both this 19th century Fang mask and in Picasso’s famous painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Third graders created a paper template for their ceramic mask, which also emphasized dramatic facial features and symmetry. The template was then traced to a slab of clay, and additional details were added. A glazing technique, similar to wood staining, was used to complete the masks.

Third Grade Self Portraits in “Blue” and “Rose”

Third graders learned about the artist Pablo Picasso, comparing his blue period to his rose period. They then created portraits of themselves in the style of each period, utilizing color and facial expression to convey emotion.

Students began each painting with a rough underpainting. Then they projected photographs of themselves onto the underpaintings and traced the projections with oil pastels. Details were added with the addition of more paint and pastel. Through this process, the underpainting functions as an element of chance; The projection never quite matching up to the underpainting breaks with conventional approaches to portraiture and in many cases emphasizes the artwork’s emotive qualities.

A Visit with Rousseau

Third graders learned about the French painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). A self-trained artist, Rousseau is best known for his jungle paintings, created entirely from his imagination. Although Rousseau never traveled to these exotic places, he would visit the botanical gardens in Paris and sketch plants in preparation for his paintings. These whimsical, dream-like works reward the viewer with their lush and layered surfaces. Stylistically speaking, Rousseau’s departure from realism was both unusual for the time and a major influence for artists of the early 20th century.

Third graders created diorama jungle scenes based on Rousseau’s work. They identified the foreground, middle ground, and background in several of the artist’s paintings and focused on creating those spaces within their own work.

Collaborative Cave Painting


Third graders read about cave paintings, some of which date back to 40,000 years ago. We discussed what would have motivated early men and women to venture into these dark and spooky caves and to make images on their walls. We discovered that the creative impulse is not unique to a few, but shared by all mankind.

Early men and women found time to express themselves through the images they made on cave walls, but they were limited in the tools they had available to make these works of art. In the spirit of these images, third graders collected pine needles and made our own paint brushes. We used charcoal, a readily available resource of the era, to emphasis elements of our drawings. Then we painted in the dark, while some students used crank operated flashlights to connect with the idea of working by the light of a fire.  

Aboriginal Dot Painting, Two Ways

Third graders traveled to Australia! The indigenous people of this region invented a style of painting composed of a series of dots. These paintings are derived from “sand drawings,” that date back many centuries. In both media, the imagery is inspired by animals of the region or used to communicate elements of the landscape, much in the same way a map functions.  

Students created animal silhouettes based on those animals native to Australia. These silhouettes are the centerpiece of both works of art seen here: one created with sand and the other with dots applied using Q-tips.